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Falcons determined to avoid letdown against Lions

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Falcons determined to avoid letdown against Lions

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Thursday was an ugly, rainy day at Atlanta's practice facility - a perfect setting for the Falcons to be reminded they can make sure they don't play another game outdoors this season.

That's added motivation to avoid a letdown in Saturday night's game at Detroit's Ford Field.

The Falcons (12-2) can secure home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs by beating the Lions. They play their final regular-season game against Tampa Bay next week in the Georgia Dome. The Super Bowl in New Orleans also will be played in a dome.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had a big smile taking about how a win at Detroit would mean there would be no chance of a January game in Seattle's rain or Green Bay's snow.

``That's awesome,'' Weatherspoon said. ``We have a lot to play for. It should be fun.''

The Falcons have painful memories of their last road game, a Dec. 9 loss at Carolina that followed a home win over the Saints.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez said players must respond better to last week's impressive 34-0 win over the Giants.

``Our focus going into that game was the best it's been all year,'' Gonzalez said. ``We have to have that type of effort week in and week out for the rest of the season. That's what good teams do in December, it's what they do in the playoffs, and ultimately Super Bowl championship teams. They have great focus throughout the week because that's what helps you win the game.''

This week's schedule left little time to savor the shutout of New York. Because they play on Saturday night, the Falcons started their practice schedule on Tuesday, their normal off day. Thursday's one-hour practice at the team's indoor facility was like the normal Friday workout.

``We've had times like this before,'' receiver Harry Douglas said Thursday. ``We've had a Thursday night game and a Monday night game, and we don't look at it like a distraction. When we had practice on Tuesday, in my mind it was already Wednesday. I got my mind right on Monday.''

Atlanta's two losses have come on the road - at New Orleans on Nov. 11 and the disappointing 30-20 defeat at Carolina on Dec. 9.

Gonzalez said the loss at Carolina should be a lesson as the Falcons prepare to play a 4-10 Detroit team that has lost six straight games.

``You can't just show up and think you're going to beat a team,'' Gonzalez said. ``Maybe we learned that against Carolina. Maybe that loss was something good for us. It's something that I think we learn from our mistakes and we keep moving forward.''

Weatherspoon said there was no mention of the Carolina game this week.

``No, we didn't go back that far,'' Weatherspoon said. ``We just tried to focus on what we did last week in preparation and we want to kind of imitate that this week. If you practice the right way, you should have a pretty good outing.''

The Falcons would clinch home-field advantage just by splitting their final two regular-season games. They've resisted any suggestion that this isn't a must-win game.

``Don't leave anything to chance,'' said running back Michael Turner. ``We control our own destiny and we want to leave it in our hands.

``I think we learned our lesson from the Carolina game. We are not taking anything for granted. We've still got work to do. We've still got things to get better at. We are going to take this like they are going to give us their best shot. We know that. Everybody tends to play better in prime time.''

NOTES: WR Roddy White (right knee) had limited participation in practice after behind held out on Wednesday. SS William Moore (hamstring) has not practiced all week and could miss his third straight game. Reserve DE Cliff Matthews (hamstring) also was held out. DT Jonathan Babineaux (ribs), OT Tyson Clabo (thigh) and CB Christopher Owens (hamstring) had limited participation.

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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